The TRUTH About BDSM (That You Won't Learn From '50 Shades Darker')

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BDSM Sex Facts To Know Before Judging It By 50 Shades Darker
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The straight-up truth from REAL kinky players...

Note: This is Guest Post featuring my collaborators Markie Twist and Dulcinea Pitagora.

First, a caveat: We are not advocates of the ill-informed works of either Sigmund Freud or E. L. James (author of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy) nor do we consider them authorities on sex and sexuality. However, it would be foolish to deny the impact they have had on society.

Freud — although his theories and therapy were rooted in misogyny and opinion — did something no other psychological professional in the Western world had done before him. He talked openly about sex and sexual identity development. This laid the groundwork for our current sexual world and profession, one where we can now talk about sex, and where we as therapists have can assist clients in working through sexuality-related concerns.

E. L. James did something similar for the world of Bondage/Discipline-Dominance/Submission-Sadomasochism (BDSM) kink.

She has opened up a larger discussion around these practices and around erotic sexual orientation.

This is arguably the one positive outcome of James’ books and the related movie series. These questions and conversations around BDSM are much needed and long overdue. So for this outcome, we are thankful.

That said, Freud did not base his ideas on research, which led to harm and misunderstandings for many consumers of his work. This is also true of E. L. James, who led many readers to grave misunderstandings of what BDSM is and is not.

Misconceptions about BDSM aren't new, and some of the most frequently asked questions include these:

  • What kinds of personality types engage in BDSM?
  • Do people who engage in BDSM come from abusive families?
  • Why would someone want to engage in BDSM play?
  • Is BDSM abuse?
  • Are BDSM relationships cold, distant, controlling, or abusive?
  • What kind of feelings do people who engage in BDSM experience before, during, and after intense sensation play?

In order to provide scientifically sound answers to these questions, we conducted an ethics board approved study involving over 200 participants who regularly engage in BDSM play, in which we asked them to take an online survey consisting of roughly 12 qualitative questions about their motivations and experiences with BDSM, as well to take these three psychological instruments:

Here is a glimpse into what we found out:

1. Why would someone want to engage in BDSM play and what kind of feelings do people who engage in BDSM experience before, during, and after their intense sensation play?

The survey section asked about each person's personal motivations, as well as their subjective experiences before, during, and after engaging in BDSM sensation play.

In response to these kinds of questions, many BDSM participants stated that they felt:

 

2. Do people who engage in BDSM come from abusive childhoods and/or unhealthy families?

Regarding the ACE assessment, we found no significant correlation between people who engage in BDSM and reports of being touched, groped or molested as a child by someone 5 or more years older.

The BDSM participants also showed no correlation with a variety of negative factors, such as feeling unloved, not having enough to eat, having separated or divorced parents or experiencing mental health or substance abuses issues in the home.

 

 

3. What kind of personality types engage in BDSM?

Regarding the BFI measure, we found a significant correlation between BDSM and Openness to New Experiences.

Otherwise, this group was considered 'typical' in terms of the standard/normal sample on which the BFI was developed.

 

4. Are BDSM relationships cold, distant, controlling and/or abusive?

Finally, regarding the ECR-S measure, those who practice BDSM have no statistical correlation to 'Anxious' or 'Avoidant' attachment styles.

This means that BDSM participants are no more likely than anyone else to feel uncomfortable with closeness in relationships, nor are they more likely to be the needy stalker type from Fatal Attraction.

In short, people who enjoy BDSM are no more likely to have a history of adverse childhood experiences, pathological personality traits or insecure attachment styles than people who prefer 'vanilla' sexuality, nor do most BDSM practitioners experience negative feelings or feel driven by harmful motivations in their choice to engage in ntense sensation play. Our results match much of the previous research around BDSM/kink practices and practitioners, in that our findings mirror recent research showing no correlation between BDSM and pathology.

 

These findings counter to much of what is presented in the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy.

The Fifty Shades trilogy may be good entertainment for some, but by portraying Christian Grey as an enigmatic, avoidant figure, incapable of relational intimacy outside of sadomasochism due to childhood abuse, the author does a disservice to the BDSM community by portraying its participants in a stigmatizing and pathologizing light. Rather, our research indicates that individuals who practice intense sensation play of BDSM are just as securely attached as community samples and don't have any greater likelihood of suffering childhood abuse. Further, the only significant personality trait that they hold is more openness to new experiences, making them more open-minded and adventurous. Instead of causing pain and distress, BDSM participants report feeling pleasure, excitement, self-empowerment, authenticity, and deep connection to their partners within their experiences.

We, the authors of this research believe that Fifty Shades has provided some benefit by bringing greater awareness about BDSM to a mainstream audience, but our research shows it's time to put all the myths, misconceptions, and inaccurate portrayals of BDSM participants finally to bed.

*Note: The authors would like to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of University of Wisconsin-Stout, Marriage and Family Therapy Program and Graduate Certificate in Sex Therapy student Serenity Curtis for her assistance with our research study of the focus on this blog.

 

 

This article was originally published at Psychology Today. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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